Nonprofit Organizations and the Intellectual Commons

Nonprofit Organizations and the Intellectual Commons

Jyh-An Lee

Over the past twenty years, a number of nonprofit organizations (NPOs), such as Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Free Software Foundation have laid essential building blocks for intellectual-commons as a social movement. Through a detailed description of these NPOs and a series of in-depth interviews with their officials, this book demonstrates that NPOs have provided the social structures that are necessary to support the production of intellectual commons.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Jyh-An Lee

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


Privatization of the commons may prevent an overuse in resources, but it may also inadvertently spark an underuse of resources, or the tragedy of the anticommons. The intellectual-commons environment is an evolving system of production, storage, distribution, and use of information, knowledge, and other types of intellectual commons. This environment operates according to some specified degree of openness, which distinguishes commons from proprietary rights. NPOs studied in this book have formed an unprecedented ecosystem that makes various commons-related activities possible. Without NPOs, the commons environment might be much less vigorous than it now is. Currently-prevailing NPO theories aid our understanding of NPOs’ role and behavior in the commons environment. Nevertheless, neither contract failure theory nor government and market failure theory provides a complete picture of NPOs’ role in the commons realm. Given the diversity of various NPOs, a theory about one type of NPOs does not translate easily to other types. Therefore, these theories may be regarded, to a large extent, as complementary rather than mutually exclusive, efforts to understand a heterogeneous sector operating in diverse economies.

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